Most of us have heard the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” If you want to get technical, the concept was originally worded, “But it seems one mustn’t judge by th’ outside” when it appeared in George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss in 1860. The wording becomes more familiar (“You can never tell a book by its cover”) in the 1948 novel, Murder in the Glass Room, by Edwin Rolfe and Lester Fuller (listen to it read aloud and torn to shreds on the podcast, Dirt Cheap). Eventually, we get to the modern adaptation.
But regardless of the phrasing, it’s wrong. You should absolutely judge books by their covers. Publishing companies put an exceptional amount of research and planning into how their book covers look in comparison to the book’s content. Barnes and Noble wrote really helpful guidelines for doing it successfully, getting down to how color palette combinations can be used to tell genres apart.
What about judging a book by its illustrations, though?
The first three books in the Addy series were beautifully illustrated by Melodye Rosales. Rosales was selected for the job after Pleasant Company saw a painting she had made of her daughter, Harmonia, who was the same age at the time as Addy Walker. In the side-by-side photos above, with the cover of Meet Addy on the left and a photo of Harmonia on the right, you can see how she drew inspiration from her child to breathe life into Addy. Additionally, Addy’s cape island dress was inspired by one worn by another real child.
Rosales’s relationship with Pleasant Company was not a smooth one; both sides vehemently disagreed on how to illustrate the Addy books. Slate’s 2016 article, titled “The Making of Addy Walker, American Girl’s First Black Doll,” provides a comprehensive look into both the history of Black dolls and the process of creating the Addy Walker doll in 1993. The article details how Rosales and American Girl founder, Pleasant Rowland, clashed repeatedly over details of the artwork. It was important to Rosales to depict colorism in the books and to always keep historical accuracy, even when it rendered elements of the story visually grimmer. In the end, Rosales would only illustrate the first three books: Meet Addy, Addy Learns a Lesson, and Addy’s Surprise. Rosales was replaced for the remaining three books (Happy Birthday Addy, Addy Saves the Day and Changes for Addy) by artist Bradford Brown.
Brown’s artwork significantly changes the physical appearances of many of the characters; his illustrations have a warm, glowing feel to them and are often a stark contrast to the cooler, more exquisitely detailed illustrations of Rosales. Below are examples of both Brown’s (first image) and Rosales’s (second image) style. You can see additional examples of Brown’s artwork for the Addy series here.
So what’s the verdict? It seems that many fans would wholeheartedly agree that yes, you can absolutely judge a book by its illustrations. You only have to look at the comments on Melodye Rosales’s Instagram account to see how beloved her depiction of Addy’s story was and continues to be.